Tips for improving your written English

Bell on a brick wall

Writing fluent English can be a real a challenge for non-native and native speakers alike.

Students at high school and university often find their work will be marked down because of their poor written English expression, but all is not lost.

Very often, improving written English can be achieved with some quite easy steps, especially if these are practised regularly.

You can opt to take these steps in a longer session every few days or in shorter, more regular stints every day. In the end, your results will be best rewarded by habitual attention and overall effort.

The steps below might seem deceptively simple, but each helps reinforce correct written English patterns, while exposing you to practical examples of our rather quaint English grammar system and helping familiarise you with the common (or local) spelling of key words. They also engage multiple senses, which helps learners immerse themselves beyond the superficial level of simply reading silently.

If you have any other useful tips for improving written English, feel free to add a comment below.

Tips for improving your written English (for non-native & native speakers)

  • Read a lot more written English … and from a variety of reputable sources and genres (books, newspapers, magazines, research papers and texts)
  • Read these sources aloud … this will help imprint the rhythm, grammar and punctuation of the English language on your brain so that, when you sit down to write, the language will flow more naturally and you will struggle less with grammar, punctuation and English expression. A great tip is to find a good writing website and read its contents aloud a few times (try http://www.poynter.org/category/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/writing-tools)
  • Take note of new words and their meanings … look them up in a dictionary and then write them down in an exercise book, in English, and re-read each new entry at least once within 24 hours (a great way to add new words to your working vocabulary). If you set out your notations across two columns, with your new words on the left and their meanings on the right, you can test your recall at least weekly by covering the meanings and explaining out loud what those new words mean
  • Listen to more English being spoken … tune in to radio news bulletins, television newscasts, special interest programs on any spoken media (podcasts and audio books are excellent and can be quite fun), making note of any unfamiliar words. For those mastering English in Australia, a great website for podcasts is that published by Radio National
  • Speak more conversational English … immerse yourself in the language (you won’t forget your native tongue), preferably 24/7, but at the very least during weekdays – this may be difficult at first but it will help you build your vocabulary, fluency and confidence more quickly. Seek out conversations with native speakers
  • Ask more questions … you will generally find most English speakers will help those willing to learn our complicated language
  • Write more, in English, every day … use it to write shopping lists, to-do lists, messages to yourself or friends (but ditch any SMS shortcuts for now)
  • Draft important written assessment work early … proof-read it aloud yourself, make any corrections, then have a colleague read through it and tell you whether it reads well and whether they understood what you wrote
  • Accept that you are learning and will make mistakes … but be determined to learn from those errors and to not repeating them
  • Avoid translators and translation tools, especially online translators … not only are they not always correct, but also they cannot help you recall the right word to use automatically. Similarly, do not rely solely on spell-checkers to check your work because they only offer the correct spelling of a word but do not detect whether that is the correct word for a particular context
  • Bookmark quality English language and grammar learning sites, such as:
    Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab
    the English Grammar website
    Talk English’s Basics of English Grammar 
  • Access any learning assistance or advice about language or writing that you can get while you are at school or university (if you unsure how to access such services, speak to your library)

And, when you are completely flummoxed by our rather ironic and unruly language, do not despair. Have a laugh instead, by reading some of the reasons why the English language is so hard to learn.

———-

Words: Trina McLellan

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2 responses to “Tips for improving your written English

    • Thanks, Madeleine … hope the tips help. I wrote them after quite a few years teaching domestic and international students at university. What’s your best tip?

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